Symbols of Hope

February 18th, 2017

One of my colleagues addressed a clergy group this week on the subject of church buildings.

He pointed out that in very depressed communities, churches may be the only buildings still maintained with care. Because they are visible centers of vitality, they become symbols of hope to their surrounding areas.

Church buildings may also have an impact in affluent areas, like our own Murray Hill. They are the rare public spaces where you can enter without being under an obligation to buy something. They are quiet places where people can spend a few moments to think and collect themselves. If they are as large as Incarnation, this can happen in the back of the church even while services are being conducted in the front.

We who need to maintain these costly buildings don’t take them for granted. But we can be glad that others who don’t in any sense identify with the Episcopal Church as an institution still enjoy the peace of Christ that our churches offer. —J. Douglas Ousley


A Week in the C of E

February 8th, 2017

I just returned from a week in London, attending various services and meetings in connection to the Link Program between the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of London, which I chair.

The highlight of my stay was the farewell Eucharist for the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres KCVO. The service was prefaced by Christian rock music and social media in the square in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The 20 or so bishops and 400+ priests then processed into St. Paul’s for a majestic Candlemas celebration attended by several thousand laypeople.

I was touched that I was mentioned in the service leaflet, and the Bishop made a special effort to greet me during the service and send his best wishes to the Bishop of New York.

Other highlights included taking the Sunday Eucharist at our link parish of St. Vedast-alias-Foster and then participating in the patronal feast of the parish on February 6. I met the soon-to-be priest-in-charge, the Rev. Paul Kennedy and enjoyed a festive reception in the nave of St. Vedast.

All in all, I am happy to report that the our Mother Church remains alive and well. —J. Douglas Ousley


In the Beginning

January 25th, 2017

By any standard, the Trump administration is off to a tumultuous start. Episcopalians might take notice of a few events from the opening days of the new regime.

First, the first two prayer services which the new (and not notably pious) President attended were in Episcopalian buildings: St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square (“the Church of the Presidents”) and the National Cathedral. There was some pushback from anti-Trump quarters, but one might counter that it’s better to retain the influence we have over national services of worship than to give it up to other religious groups.

Second, among many early executive orders, Mr. Trump re-started the Dakota Pipeline project. The pipeline goes through Native American lands and the Episcopal Church has sponsored many demonstrations against the project, which was halted in December by the Obama administration. We will be hearing a lot about this particular issue in the weeks ahead.

Whatever we feel about our new leader, we need to keep him and all in authority in Washington in our prayers. —J. Douglas Ousley


In God We Trust

January 17th, 2017

The contrast between the positive and the negative feelings as we approach Inauguration Day seems starker than ever.

It’s not unusual to experience a cultural low after the holidays, and cold, gray winter weather doesn’t help one’s mood, either. But the uncertainty surrounding the new administration seems to have intensified anxiety on the left and defensiveness on the right.

I have no political comments to add. And my only spiritual comment is to remind us all of the old American motto, “In God We Trust.”–J. Douglas Ousley


Not so Incompatible

January 9th, 2017

I recently heard a talk by the noted Episcopalian spiritual writer, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. Mother Crafton read from her new book, The Also Life, which offers insights into the relationship between science and religion.

This is, of course, a vast topic. Many theologians with little knowledge of science make unconvincing claims about whether it clashes with faith; many scientists with little knowledge of religion make equally ignorant claims.

Mother Crafton takes a poetic tack, which is surely an approach worth pursuing. She spoke of the eternal presence of God as a way in which we share life (the “also life,” not the afterlife) with those whom we love who have departed this world. You can’t exactly put that thought into the language of modern physics, but the poetry of the Eternal Now (as Paul Tillich described God) is accessible to Christians who also accept the claims of modern science. —J. Douglas Ousley


Hopes and Fears

December 23rd, 2016

One of the historic connections Incarnation is most proud of is our relationship to perhaps the greatest clergyman of the 19th century, Phillips Brooks. One of Brooks’ brothers, Arthur was rector of Incarnation; Phillips preached his last Christmas sermon from our pulpit.

Brooks is indelibly linked with this season because he was the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” When we sing that marvelous carol this Christmastime, we may pay particular attention to the words, “…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

2016 had more than its share of global hopes and fears. And whatever we are feeling now, Brooks’ hymn reminds us that we can bring our feelings to Christ. Whatever our hopes, whatever our fears, we can bring them to the One who shares them and holds them in his heart. —J. Douglas Ousley


The President and His Religion

December 19th, 2016

As far as I know, we have never had a professed atheist President. Our last two leaders, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were faithful churchgoers.

Donald Trump’s personal faith is not clear. He claims membership in the Marble Collegiate Church around the corner from Incarnation; he met his second wife while attending a service there and pastors of that church have officiated at one at least of his weddings. One of his grandchildren was baptized in an Episcopal Church.

Doubtless, then, Mr. Trump would claim to be a Christian in something resembling good standing. It remains to be seen, however, how his faith will affect his decisions as president.

Of course, one can be a fine political leader without being a Christian or a believer of any kind. Americans may put too much emphasis on the personal religion of its presidents. And one thing is certain: we don’t need hypocrisy in high places. —J. Douglas Ousley


Two Nations?

December 13th, 2016

Yesterday, a number of messages appeared on the Diocese of New York priests’ listserv. They were from women priests offering bus rides to Washington D.C. for the January 21 “million women” march. I was amazed at how many parishes have already rented buses for the trip.

Later in the day, I was at a dinner party with a pretty conservative (and mostly Episcopalian) group of people. I asked various guests what they thought of the upcoming march–and none of them had even heard of it!

I hope the latter group were simply forgetting having previously read about the January gathering. I also hope that the activists on the march remember that many of their fellow citizens have different concerns about the future than they do. —J. Douglas Ousley


Time for a Break

November 23rd, 2016

The reality is still sinking in and people are still in tears over the election.

All the more reason to give thanks on this most congenial of holidays. We might remember the legend that the Pilgrims shared the first thanksgiving with Indian neighbors. Whether this really happened or not, the idea is a nice part of our heritage. There can have been few greater cultural barriers at that time than between the transplanted English and the Native Americans. A hopeful thought for the future…–J. Douglas Ousley


A Pastoral Letter Concerning the 2016 Election

November 18th, 2016

A Pastoral Letter Concerning the 2016 Election

 

To the Incarnation Family:

 

A member of the congregation in his thirties recently told me that he felt the recent presidential election was one of the worst things that has happened to America in his lifeline, equal to the attacks of 9/11. I can’t myself remember receiving so many emails and personal expressions of worry and outrage.

 

Since I have avoided talking politics from the pulpit, and I have kept my own ballot choice to myself, I have received comments from supporters of both candidates. While supporters of Hillary Clinton are the most outspoken in their fears for the future, I have also received confidential comments from supporters Donald Trump that are also apprehensive about what will happen to our country.

 

In most cases, supporters of one candidate can’t comprehend how any Christian could possibly support the other candidate. Many people have contended that the Church should take sides—as the Episcopal Church supported the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and as it continues to denounce racism in our society today.

 

We can all agree that racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are social evils. We can also agree that the President-elect cannot be charged with these evils until he has been inaugurated and begun to exercise his power. So we are really concerned now that no decisions be made for the future that will make it hard later for the new government to govern justly for all the American people.

 

A number of Christians have marched or otherwise protested the election results; that’s probably not a bad thing, as it reminds those coming into power that a lot of people didn’t vote for them—holding their feet to the fire, as it were.

 

In the meantime, I believe it’s important for everyone to realize that there are decent and honorable Christians on both sides of this election. And it’s the responsibility of all of us to ensure that the new government upholds the ideals upon which our nation was founded.

 

Finally, we can all pray that God will bless America.

 

Yours faithfully,

The Rev. J. Douglas Ousley

Rector

Church of the Incarnation